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Electric powered cars from the early 1960's


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I recently posted a 1963 newspaper article on the 1912  Baker solar powered thread. When I did, I also found another electric car article in my files from 1960. Electric cars were apparently a topic of considerable interest at the time. I have decided to post it as a new topic rather than drifting off topic on the Baker thread. I would be interested to hear any recollections or other related thoughts on the electric powered experimental car scene from the early 1960's.

Enjoy the article.

Bob

IMG_20210410_123030901_HDR.jpg

Edited by Bob Barrett
incorrect subject references (see edit history)
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  • Bob Barrett changed the title to Electric powered cars from the early 1960's

GM developed an electric Corvair prototype in the 1960s.  There are videos on youtube of it driving around the test tracks, e.g.:

  

 

There is a fun book that was published in 1996 that chronicled the development of the EV1.  It is called "The Car That Could", by Michael Shnayerson.  In it, he goes through a few of the earlier GM research efforts.  But mostly the Sunraycer solar car of the mid-1980s, which led to the Impact EV concept car, when Roger Smith then committed into a production version that became the EV1.  It is a great read.  The fellow who led the EV1 effort, Ken Baker, was also involved in an earlier 1970s GM EV concept called the Electrovette.

 

Shnayerson says the 1960s-era Electrovair and Electrovair II used variable frequency inverters to control AC motors - much like todays EVs.  They were designed by an engineer named Paul Agarwal.  But the electronics of the day were too crude.  According to Shnyerson, Agarwal gave up in disgust.

 

The Electrovette was experimenting with some newer battery chemistry, and apparently used DC motors and even cruder controllers.  I am guessing they didn't have the budget to both investigate the newer batteries and update Agarwals inverter design.  The Electrovette concept was also deemed a failure and buried.

 

It wasn't until the mid 1980s when Holden, GMs Australian brand, contacted Roger Smith about an upcoming solar race across Australia.  Smith had just purchased Hughes Aircraft, and as it turns out, Hughes knew a LOT about solar panels and batteries from their satellite work.  A team from Hughes got Paul MacCready and his team at Aerovironment to help out and they developed the Sunraycer solar car.  Shnayerson talks a lot about the rivalries between the various GM divisions when developing Sunraycer, Impact, and the EV1.  It is amazing that any of them got built...

 

The fellow who developed the inverter for Sunraycer and Impact was a maverick engineer named Alan Cocconi.  Cocconi later started AC Propulsion and developed a prototype called the T-Zero.  After the California Mandate of the 1990s got defeated in court, and the EV1 and others were immediately cancelled, Cocconi lost all his customers.  Then Marc Tarpenning, Martin Eberhard, and venture capitalist Elon Musk used one of Cocconi's T-Zeros to demonstrate using Li-ion battery tech with AC Propulsion's inverter and motor designs.  This led to the Tesla Roadster.  And the rest is history.

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There were quite a few electric cars in the late fifties and early sixties. Not just a toy Corvette with photo electric cells glued on the hood.

There was the Henney Kilowatt, a repowered Renault Dauphine, the Electric Shopper and another that looked like a modified Karmann Ghia. No doubt several more I have forgotten.

image.jpeg.3ec5f0c03c7ff920ed74d6c98a513969.jpeg

1960's electric car - Automobiles and Parts - Buy/Sell - Antique Automobile  Club of America - Discussion Forums

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3 minutes ago, Rusty_OToole said:

There were quite a few electric cars in the late fifties and early sixties. Not just a toy Corvette with photo electric cells glued on the hood.

There was the Henney Kilowatt, a repowered Renault Dauphine, the Electric Shopper and another that looked like a modified Karmann Ghia. No doubt several more I have forgotten.

image.jpeg.3ec5f0c03c7ff920ed74d6c98a513969.jpeg

1960's electric car - Automobiles and Parts - Buy/Sell - Antique Automobile  Club of America - Discussion Forums

 

There is an Electric Shopper at the EV Museum in Kingman, AZ.  It's not much more than a golf cart or something you'd see rolling around a factory floor.  The EV Museum is co-located with the Route 66 Museum in the old Kingman Powerhouse building.  Not sure if they have a Henny Kilowatt, but wouldn't be surprised if they do.

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Little later there was the CitiCar, memorable as the first car to wrap the brake caliper around the axle in a test.

 

1024px-1976_Citicar_6HP.jpg

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Thanks guys, lots of interesting facts "right out of the gate"on 60's electrics. When viewed from current times, I find it interesting to see some of the mid-century building blocks that have led to where we are today. Even experiments that failed are still part of the process, and some ideas were simply ahead of the available technology at the time.

wws944 - Lots of great information. It's easy to see that you are more than a little interested in EVs and have quite a bit of historical background information cached.

Rusty - Thank you. I have read a bit on the Electric Shopper, but the Henney Kilowatt is new to me. Much appreciated!

It's nice to think that having some of this information gathered here may help to preserve a tiny bit of history. The more places that these stories are held, the more secure they are in the historical record.

Bob

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The Citi Car just highlights why Elon Musk is such a genius.   Build an electric car that doesn't make the driver look like an idiot or someone that got lost looking for the 18th hole.

 

 

The Corvair is cool.  This is from December 1966.

 

 

Des_Moines_Tribune_Wed__Dec_28__1966_.jpg

Edited by alsancle (see edit history)
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1 hour ago, alsancle said:

The Citi Car just highlights why Elon Musk is such a genius.   Build an electric car that doesn't make the driver look like an idiot or someone that got lost looking for the 18th hole.

 

That was, in fact, their intent.  Build something someone would aspire to own - like if they won the lottery.  Not some 'weird mobile'.  Hence the Tesla Roadster which, with a lot of help from Lotus, could match/exceed the performance of other high end performance cars.  Tarpenning, Eberhardt, and Musk were all sports car guys.

 

Speaking of EVs in the 1960s, the first EV "cannonball" took place in 1968 between a team at Caltech in Pasadena, and a team at MIT.  The Pasadena team raced to the east coast in a converted VW van, and the MIT team raced to the west coast in a converted Corvair.  A series of charging stops was coordinated with local electric utilities on the route across the U.S.  Both teams encountered a lot of technical problems, and some towing was involved.  After penalty points were applied, the Caltech team was declared the winner.

 

  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Transcontinental_Electric_Car_Race

 

Caltech team member Wally Rippel later went on to work for Aerovironment, AC Propulsion, and Tesla.

 

FWIW, the current EV cannonball record, from Red Ball Garage in NYC to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, CA, is 44 hours, 26 minutes.  Was done by a team driving a Porsche Taycan.

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10 minutes ago, wws944 said:

 

That was, in fact, their intent.  Build something someone would aspire to own - like if they won the lottery.  Not some 'weird mobile'.  Hence the Tesla Roadster which, with a lot of help from Lotus, could match/exceed the performance of other high end performance cars.  Tarpenning, Eberhardt, and Musk were all sports car guys.

 

Speaking of EVs in the 1960s, the first EV "cannonball" took place in 1968 between a team at Caltech in Pasadena, and a team at MIT.  The Pasadena team raced to the east coast in a converted VW van, and the MIT team raced to the west coast in a converted Corvair.  A series of charging stops was coordinated with local electric utilities on the route across the U.S.  Both teams encountered a lot of technical problems, and some towing was involved.  After penalty points were applied, the Caltech team was declared the winner.

 

  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Transcontinental_Electric_Car_Race

 

Caltech team member Wally Rippel later went on to work for Aerovironment, AC Propulsion, and Tesla.

 

FWIW, the current EV cannonball record, from Red Ball Garage in NYC to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, CA, is 44 hours, 26 minutes.  Was done by a team driving a Porsche Taycan.

 

I have a buddy with a Cal Tech engineering degree.   Those guys are a riot because they think that you go to MIT if you can't get in to Cal Tech.   They are serious.

 

 

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For years a local garage here had (has) an electric powered MGTD replica.  I assumed it was just a repowered vw based kit, Fiberfab, etc.  Then I recently saw one for sale on either fleabay or fleabook.  Now I am thinking maybe someone built these at one time.  It must have been unsuccessful though, seems pretty obscure.  That said, a lightweght frame and maybe buying bodies from an outfit like Fiberfab is not that bad of an idea.  I have no idea of the output of the motor though, or how many batteries, etc.  The one at the shop near me is complete and I believe roadworthy though.

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There is a company in the UK that will electrify anything that rolls in. Have a friend building wheelstanding golf carts. New hot rods.

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Those fiberglass kit car people that made the Bradley GT were selling an EV version of their creation in the 1970s.  Not sure how many ever were built.

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Great stuff from all who have contributed so far!  Alsancle - I had forgotten about the "Cannonball" competitions that began in the late 60's (as you noted). They are exactly the type of thing that I was hoping for with this thread.

Thank you,   Bob 

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16 hours ago, padgett said:

There is a company in the UK that will electrify anything that rolls in. Have a friend building wheelstanding golf carts. New hot rods.

 

The not-so-secret secret is that the bigger the battery pack, the more power available for the motor(s) to draw - given the inverter can handle the power.  Ludicrous mode (0->60 in under 3 secs) in a Performance Model S can draw 1500+ amps at 400V!  They borrowed some tech from SpaceX to safely handle the high current.  Latest models have upgraded the inverters to use SiC instead of Si IGBTs too.  More efficient, so less heat to deal with.  Also the highly efficient PMSRM motors introduced with the Model 3 are now being used in the rest of the lineup.  The Tesla Semi prototype uses four Model 3 PMSRM motors powered by a massive battery pack.  Will out drag any conventionally powered semi pulling a load, and doesn't have to shift through eleventy-five gears either.

 

Ludicrous is old news now.  Plaid and Plaid+ coming soon.

 

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On 4/13/2021 at 7:37 AM, Bob Barrett said:

...

wws944 - Lots of great information. It's easy to see that you are more than a little interested in EVs and have quite a bit of historical background information cached....

 

I've been a techie (and car lover!) all my life, and spent my career in Silicon Valley and the computer world.  This stuff is highly interesting to me.

 

The Corvair article that @alsancle posted is quite interesting, and has a lot of stuff in it that we still see used as arguments against EVs today.  Even though the vast majority of those arguments are either no longer true, or never were true.

 

Doesn't stop me from occasionally jumping in my 35 y/o 944 and enjoying shifting through the gears, or taking in the sun with my Reatta convertible!  ICE cars will be with us for some time to come.  But for me, not as a daily driver.

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Not sure what Corvair they are comparing it to but my four carb 65 Corsa was just a little bit faster (like about double that top speed). Have had as many Corvairs as Fieros. My kind of cars.

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3 minutes ago, padgett said:

Not sure what Corvair they are comparing it to but my four carb 65 Corsa was just a little bit faster (like about double that top speed). Have had as many Corvairs as Fieros. My kind of cars.

2 X 86 mph= 172mph  I would love to see a Covair doing THAT kind of speed!

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OK so more like 140-145. Warren's (very good friend who passed recently) was faster, D/P Yenko Stinker. Dredging now but recall Doug Roe had a really fast one.

yenkowl.JPG

 

Still 0-60 in 16 seconds, sounds like the quarter was "today".

 

 

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re Ron Cohn  "he made a single 178 mph pass that burned up a bunch of cylinders in the process. I think that was the last year for Ron's Corvair at the Salt.."

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@TerryB - nice overview of the Electrovair II.  Silver-zinc batteries were a dead end.  AC induction motors have been around since Nikola Tesla days, and are used by Elon and Co in their cars today.  (Though half as many as they used to - induction on one end of the car and PMSRM on the other end these days.)  The inverter description is more interesting.  They attempted to use SCRs, but were clearly pushing the limits of solid state electronics of the day.

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It's no secret electric power is the best, the holdup was the batteries. Up to the seventies that meant lead acid batteries the size and weight of a waterbed that held energy about equal to 1 gallon of gas.

The breakthrough came with cell phones and laptop computers. When the most sophisticated battery powered gadget you had was a transistor radio worth $35 who would pay an extra $50 or $100 for a better battery? But for a $600 cell phone or $1500 laptop why not? So some really good batteries got invented, that had been known in principle for many years but never developed.

Tesla car batteries are made of a pickup truck load of AA cells stuck together. I guess they are the most economical, mass produced ones to buy, they just use a lot of them.

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Finally got time to mention on this thread a fellow named Robert Aronsson.  He apparently did a lot of pioneering EV work in the 1960s-1980s based on conversions of production cars and his own battery chemistries.  He was involved behind the scenes in the 1968 race between Cal Tech and MIT that I mentioned above.  He worked with the electric utilities on charging stops, supplied both teams with motors, and the Cal Tech team with his batteries.  (MIT team used NiCads.)  There is a wikipedia article outlining his accomplishments:

  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Energy_Systems

 

Apparently he had some connections with Holiday Inns.  In 1969 set up a series of charging stops at some HI locations between Detroit and Chicago to demonstrate road tripping by EV.  At the time, he was converting Renaults.  Later AMCs, and then Chevette gliders.

 

For those of you on facebook, there is a "Robert R. Aronsson" FB page with a bunch of postings and photos of his cars.

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In the mid 1960s a few battery-electric concept cars appeared, such as the Scottish Aviation Scamp (1965), and an electric version of General Motors gasoline car, the Electrovair (1966). None of them entered production. The 1973 Enfield 8000 did make it into small-scale production, 112 were eventually produced.

 

 

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